What’s genre got to do with it?

You can't have too many books. No, you can't.

You can’t have too many books. No, you can’t.

This is the second in a series of posts written to motivate you and help you prepare for November’s National Novel Writing Month, or as it is called in the vernacular: Nanowrimo 2014!

Have you a favorite genre? If you look at your bookshelf, are the majority of the books of the same ilk? Nowadays, I guess a better question would be more concerned about the books on your tablet or eReader, but the concept is the same.

People tend to favor a few genres over all others. Some people love mysteries and romances, but will never entertain the thought of reading science fiction. I know one person who is a strict non-fiction’er. Hey, it works for them.

Me? I tend to go with mysteries, although I do like thrillers (and there is a difference.) I have read science fiction in the past, as well, enjoying the thought-provoking, fact-based drama created from the imaginations of the writers. I also appreciate non-fiction, as long as it is not slanted with the agenda of the writer. But romance books? Yes, they are a top seller, but still – not for me; and please don’t ask me to write any. It would suck be bad. Very bad.

As a writer, you don’t need to worry about genre – unless you want your readers to come back.

Genres come into being once someone creates a literary form to which the readers can relate. And by that, I mean they enjoy reading the form well enough to buy and read the books. Again and again.

Readers shop for whatever appeals to them. If they love to read romance novels, they might look at the Harlequin website, perhaps even the Carina Press site, since it is the eBook haven connected to Harlequin. If Carina puts out your book for sale, and people buy it thinking it is a romance novel, your protagonist (usually the girl, but not always) better end up with her knight in shining armor by the end of the story. If they aren’t getting married, they better be well on the way. End your tome with the boy skipping town with the protagonist’s best friend, leaving her a crying mess? Expect complaints. Expect sales for your second book to be lower.

But wait. Isn’t this blog series about preparing for Nanowrimo?

Yes, it is. And genre has a lot to do with it. As a writer, either new, old, “aspiring” or published, you must know the basic forms used in your chosen genre. I write mysteries. Cozy mysteries, in particular. If you are not familiar with the form, these are stories with a few essential rules. First, there must be a crime, preferably a murder, and it usually will have occurred either at the start of the story or just before the story begins. There also will not be any real graphic violence, cursing language, and most definitely no overt sexual themes and descriptions. Think Angela Landsbury and her television show, Murder She Wrote. Even better, it’s Agatha Christie. There, I think you get the picture.

If I were to write pages upon pages of forensic minutiae regarding Chef Pierre’s fatal knife wound from The Apple Pie Alibi, and then go on to give you a kiss by kiss commentary on Winnie and Parker’s activities when she discovered him sitting in his patrol car outside her house late one night, well, it might sell books, but it would not be correctly advertised as a cozy mystery. Publishers spend time (meaning money) on advertising, marketing, cover design, and more, trying to convince the general reading public to purchase a book. If the cozy mystery is really a contemporary adult-themed thriller, the money, more correctly stated: the publisher’s money will not have been used to the best extent possible. No one will be happy.

You are the author. You need to know what genre you are writing. Think of it this way. Would you go to a surgeon who doesn’t always know the names of the sharp tools at his disposal? “Excuse me, nurse, please hand me that pointy thing over there, you know, the one next to that shiny thing?” I don’t think so.

Pick a genre, read the genre, and know it inside and out. Preferably before you start writing!

I do not wish to say you have to choose one genre and never stray from it, but for Nanowrimo purposes you will need to write in just one genre.

Trust me, agents and publishers will look at you with a big, nasty stink-eye if you present them with your Regency Romance Steampunk Mystery Novel containing elements of paranormal western ninja themes.

How to learn about your genre?

This is the fun part. Go to the library. You know, it’s that old building with all the books in it? Since the Dewey Decimal System may be foreign to many of you, I will not bother with numbers such as 813.087, especially since the fiction section tends to be separated from the rest anyway. But, if all else fails, ask the person behind the desk. They are probably a librarian and they love questions like “Where can I find [insert name of author, title, subject]? “ And if you find a card catalogue? Now we’re talking! Browsing through the drawers is more fun than shopping for shoes. Of course, I hate shopping for shoes, but that’s not the point.

Okay, go ahead and do a search on the computer. Be that way.

Anyhow, check out a few dozen books in your chosen genre and start reading. After a while you will see a pattern of recurring themes. Make note of these and put them to use once you start outlining your Nano-novel.

The point is: you can’t write what you don’t know.

Of course, if you are brilliant, you may want to create your own genre. But that’s a story for another day.

Genres. Pick one – know one – write one!


Next up: Why the main character must be awesome – but never perfect.